Mentoring isn’t a new thing. As long as workplaces have existed, mentoring has too. Artisans learned what they needed to know through apprenticeships. They didn’t get paid much because they were learning the trade from the experts in the workplace. Those experts had been there for a long time and had the experience to both know and teach. No matter what the career path was: baker, carpenter, priest, rabbi – everyone started out as a learner.That’s not the case today. Now we expect people to hit the ground running. Want to work? Great! Start working. You can learn as you go. We don’t really have time to train you given what we are paying you. And you don’t really want to earn less while you are learning the job.
In any organization – business, not-for-profit, education, and government – mentoring is more important than ever. There is plenty of data out there that indicates that having a mentor is a great way for people to learn new skills, get feedback, navigate the politics, and learn how to deal effectively problems and people.
The good relationships between mentor and protégée benefit both people and the organization too. Mentoring can be a good predictor of career success. I’ve read that people who are mentored make more money, enjoy their jobs more, earn more promotions, and experience less on-the-job stress. Mentoring doesn’t just help with retention; it also helps develop a skilled workforce. In fact, it can be more efficient and less costly than training programs.
But a good mentoring program is not that easy to execute. You can’t just match up mentors and protégée’s and then step back and call it a day.
Want to improve the effectiveness of your mentoring program?
- Get real buy-in from executive leadership and management. Time and energy will need to be devoted to mentoring. Without a clear commitment and expectation that time will be set aside for mentoring, it doesn’t stand a chance. Mentors needs to be as committed to the protégées and executives should build accountability into performance reviews. One study I came across said that having a disengaged mentor is worse for employee morale and retention than not having a mentor at all.
- Create incentives or rewards instead of mandating a mentoring program. Makes sure everyone understands the objectives and benefits of the program — and how they are linked to strategic goals within the company or department. People have to want to participate. If both mentor and protégée can figure out ‘what is in it for them’ it’s more likely they will be engaged and successful.
- Don’t focus on career advancement. Instead focus on personal development. A mentor isn’t going to get you that next job. A mentor won’t remove obstacles but they will help the protegee understand how to navigate them.
- Hold both the protégée and the mentor responsible. There should be accountability for both parties. The relationship should develop naturally.
- Makes sure everyone understands the time commitment. There should be a formal schedule with clearly stated expectations up front the covers how often, and how both parties want to interact. Meetings need to be consistent AND a priority. While many balk at an hour a week, it’s not a bad place to start.
- It should be a good match. A mentor should have something to offer the protégée; something that matches that person’s interests and developmental needs. The best matches contain compatible personalities. Mentors tend to develop people they like. In some cases however, it’s better to focus on the protégée’s goals and find someone who can help accomplish them. Both parties have to feel like they are getting something of value from the relationship.
- Confidentiality goes both ways. Both parties need to be able to share difficult experiences and knowledge, and trust that the information stays between them.
Lots of mentoring happens outside of formal programs too – which is terrific for the protégée because in today’s complex world successful people have more than one mentor. (Referred to as “multiple mentoring”).
Do you mentor? Do you have a mentor? Do you have multiple mentors? Are you getting what you need, had hoped, want – from the relationship? Interested in talking about this more? Let me know.